Reprint of my article published by WebDiagnosis.com on Sept. 4th
It is difficult for parents to deal with the thought that their child might have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Schools often push parents or caretakers into using medications to solve behavioral problems. Often, the teachers will take it upon themselves to provisionally diagnose a child with ADHD. This leaves the parents feeling pressured, frustrated, and unsupported. It is important for the caretaker of a child with behavioral concerns to understand the difference between normal childhood behavior and the true diagnosis of ADHD. There are several signs and symptoms of ADHD that you should watch for so that you can make an informed decision about the care of your child. They will help you determine if it is time to seek a professional opinion.
To be considered symptoms of ADHD, the behaviors described in this article must be present for at least six months, cause distress in the life of the child or family, and be present in more than one environment. If the behavior is temporary due to stress or only is present at school, then your child may need an evaluation for another disorder, but it is likely not ADHD. Also, a child with only one or two symptoms may not have ADHD but might benefit from counseling or mentoring.
1. Impulsive behavior. A child that shows signs of being a risk taker may have ADHD. Risky behavior will become evident as the child gains independence. Some of them are normal signs of growth: By testing boundaries and pushing through their limitations, children are able to mature and develop skills necessary for adulthood. The problem comes when the behavior seems to happen without much thought or concern for consequences. The impulsive behavior may be as simple as blurting out answers or questions in class or as dangerous as deciding to jump from a high place or use drugs.
2. Forgetfulness. Some children might pretend to forget activities which do not want to do, but for a child with ADHD, forgetfulness is less selective than this. They will forget preferred activities as well as ones they may not enjoy. They may become distracted while completing one task and forget about that task altogether. This may happen multiple times during the day which may end with their video game controller in the refrigerator, their homework on the front lawn, and the telephone in the bathroom. In school, the teacher may show you work that is half done or off-topic. All children have occasional or purposeful forgetfulness, but with ADHD, it may seem as though the child can’t help it.
3. Hyperactivity. A hyperactive child is different than a child that is just active. A hyperactive child seems like they are plugged into an electrical outlet and cannot stop moving. Hyperactivity is easily noticed and often disruptive. A child that is truly hyperactive will be moving even when they are sitting still. Their legs may shake, their fingers may tap, or they may constantly fidget. You may notice that the child needs to stand up or move around in situations where it is customary to sit down, such as in a movie theater or a classroom. The hyperactivity will not be due to medication or behavioral issues, and is seemingly out of the control of the child.
4. Interruptions. If having a conversation with or near your child is difficult due to constant interruptions, it might be due to ADHD. Interruptions from young children without ADHD occur, but usually are less intrusive and disruptive than from a child with ADHD. This also includes physical interruptions, such as not being able to wait their turn for a game or cutting in the lunch line without regard to social norms. The child with ADHD does not do this with the intent to irritate or mistreat others, but just cannot wait for his or her turn. This is likely due to the thoughts of the child being so rapid and changing that it is important to them to do the activity or ask the question in the moment before the next impulse comes along. In a child with ADHD, redirection and attempts at correcting the behavior are not successful over the long term.
5. Avoidance. Often, children with ADHD have difficulty in school and, if left untreated, may develop learning disorders or fall behind their peers. Being able to listen and retain hours of information for a child with ADHD is nearly impossible. For the hyperactive child, avoidance may be more overt and purposeful. The child may ask to go to the restroom multiple times or ask to sharpen their pencil or to do another small task that consumes time and allows them to avoid work or chores. A child that is more inattentive will escape through doodling or daydreaming. They may be very slow and deliberate with their work so that there is not enough time to complete it. In either situation it may seem like things never get fully done by the child at school or at home.
6. Unfocused. Children with ADHD have trouble maintaining their focus and this makes it difficult for them to be successful at school. The structure of a school day does not work for the unstructured thoughts and needs of a child with ADHD. It may also be difficult for them to focus outside of school, when they are watching television, playing games, talking, completing homework, or doing chores. A child with ADHD may quickly lose eye contact with you due to something else catching their attention, or might stop mid-conversation and begin talking about an unrelated topic.
If your child exhibits with any of these symptoms and they cause distress, it is wise to find a counselor that specializes in child and adolescent disorders. If more than a couple of these symptoms describe your child, then there is a high likelihood that your child may have some form of ADHD. A psychologist, psychiatrist, or developmental pediatrician can help make a clear diagnosis and suggest appropriate treatment options.
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